Getting to know HACT’s new CEO, Candace Davidson
On Monday, the 27th of February 2017, HACT welcomed its new CEO, Candace Davidson to the organisation following the departure of Olivia Myeza who after five and a half years, decided to return with her family to Australia. In this edition of our newsletter, we take the opportunity to get to know Candace a little better and her plans for HACT going forward.
Q: Please tell us a little more about yourself and what you’ve been doing prior to joining the team at HACT?
While I am originally from Canada, I feel like an international citizen as my family has lived in three countries, nine cities and has Canadian-Nigerian-American-South African-and Dutch heritage. So needless to say my children (of which I have four - aged 7, 13, 16 and 19) are thoroughly and comically confused when asked to define their “culture”. Diversity is something we celebrate and maybe why we love to travel; there is so much to be gained by learning about and from others.
Prior to joining HACT I was a Research Fellow at CAPRISA (Centre of AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa) where I was immersed in epidemiological HIV/AIDS research and also started my doctoral studies. Most of my working and volunteering experience has been with non-profit organisations at a community level around issues of health, particularly for mothers and children, HIV/AIDS, food security and poverty. My passion revolves around public health, which has so many angles and is quite multi-disciplinary, and translating that into meaningful impact within local communities.
Q: What are your first impressions of HACT and its work?
I’m pleased to say I’m no stranger to HACT. I had heard wonderful things about this place called HACT years ago when we first moved to the Durban area and I began my Masters in Public Health. Then in 2014 I had the privilege to work here for six months when I filled a maternity leave contract managing the OVC and Home-Based Care programmes. That’s when I really fell in love with HACT and was hooked. It’s such a unique organisation that addresses and cares for those impacted by HIV/AIDS with creativity, compassion and authenticity.
Q: What in your opinion are the biggest challenge/s facing South Africa in its efforts to gain epidemic control?
Unfortunately South Africa remains at the epicentre of the HIV epidemic, this despite accounting for only 1% of the world’s population and having the largest ARV programme in the world, SA still shoulders roughly 17% of the global burden of HIV. In view of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets (90% of people knowing their HIV status, 90% of those who know they are positive being on treatment, and 90% of those on treatment reducing their viral loads to be undetectable - thereby eliminating ongoing transmission), I feel that South Africa still has to broaden its campaign to get people onto and adherent to treatment together with targeted efforts to identify the key populations at highest risk for HIV transmission. And that will be difficult, as there is still so much stigma, misunderstanding, misinformation, gender violence and disempowerment, and this is especially true for those most vulnerable, including adolescent girls and young women. With HIV/AIDS messaging, there is also a lack of urgency towards HIV/AIDS, as it is now seen as a manageable health condition however we need to remember the reality that there is no vaccine nor cure (yet), and a positive test result means lifetime treatment from a virus that seeks to destroy one’s immune system. When taken too lightly, individuals (particularly young people) don’t think long term and don’t take the necessary measures to prevent infection. This combined with the challenges of social, economic and structural risk factors in South African society creates an environment which sustains ongoing transmission and continues the epidemic.
Q: What do you see as HACT’s role in tackling the country’s HIV/AIDS pandemic?
Our province of KwaZulu-Natal still sees the highest proportion of HIV incidence and prevalence. Understanding and breaking ongoing transmission in KZN could therefore impact on changing the epidemic trajectory nationally and regionally. I feel HACT has a unique role to play in this complicated puzzle with its long standing, multi-faceted work and commitment in the Valley of 1000 Hills.
Q: What makes HACT unique and what are your long term goals for the organisation?
HACT has a unique combination of heart, skilfulness and community action. Numbers and statistics aside, we are an organization that cares for the body and soul, one person at a time. So our challenge will be to remain responsive to the ever changing landscape of HIV/AIDS prevention tools, policy and treatment campaigns, and balance that with our personal approach of love and action. To do so means we will need to be continually challenging ourselves, our programmes and our initiatives and adapting to new developments and evidence in the field, to the needs of the community and to the social and political environments. I also feel HACT needs to have a strong voice and presence in the field of HIV/AIDS advocacy. With 26 years (and counting) under its belt, HACT has a lot of experience and expertise to offer and share.
Q: What are the biggest challenges currently facing HACT and how can people help the organisation achieve its mission?
Securing ongoing and sustainable funding is the biggest challenge for any NGO, and that includes HACT. A number of our funding cycles with some major donors are wrapping up and we are facing the reality of ending certain programmes which in turn affects our staffing. So the need to seek additional funding is constant and funding trends are shifting with some funders only wanting to support tangible items or restrictive programme costs. This translates to simply money in and money out without any overhead costs being covered, things such as salaries, electricity, building and vehicle maintenance….which, while not as attention-grabbing, are still essential to keeping our doors open and services operational. My greatest request is for people to remain supportive and come alongside HACT and continue partnering with us, acknowledging that unallocated funds are necessary for us to juggle between the needs and realities. All support enables us to provide the unconditional love and care, for which HACT was formed, to responsively sustain the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Valley of 1000 Hills.